Hello, Old Norse-reading friend. I have a question. What's your personal take on a translation for Býleistr? I've seen so many different ones and am curious as to your thoughts. Many thanks.
Hello, friend! Thanks for asking. I love getting Norse myth/language questions. :)
The most obvious translation, to my mind, is definitely “Bee-stocking” or “Bee-foot”: bý, a neuter word in the accusative (or nominative), meaning “bee”, and leistr, a masculine word in the nominative, meaning “ sock, stocking, stocking- foot, or foot (below the ankle), sole” [dependent upon which dictionary you consult; these are the interpretations of three separate dictionaries, lol]. We could also think of bý as the neuter plural, and then you get “Bees-sock”, but obviously the singular makes for a better translation. It is also possible that the bý we see is actually the accusative or genitive of the masculine noun býr (”farmstead, farmhouse, town, village”) which is often written bær or bœr. Then we may get brother “Town-foot”, “village-stocking”, “Sole of farmhouse”, and on and on. Lots of combos. And if we took the “i” in leistr as a phonetic insert, which I suppose it could be, then we could get lestr from the verb lesa, and we might have a “farmhouse-leaser”, “Bee-reader”, or any number of combinations thereupon (though “Bee-reader” sounds fun to me). According to the Cleasby-Vigfusson dictionary, we could possibly even read lestr as “gossiper, speaker”. Then we get things like “Bee-speaker”, “Farmhouse-gossiper”, “Town-gossiper”, etc. AND if we take our newly i-less lestr to be from the verb lesta, then we get shit like “Farmstead-breaker”, “Bee-wrecker”, “Town-damager”. There’s so many options, and I’m honestly not sure if I’m supposed to take these verb forms as warped masculine derivatives, or if they should be superlatives (”Bee-totalled”, “Farmhouse- well-read”?) There’s an awful lot going on.
The translation that I see the most often is “Bee-lightning”, which has always been my favorite because, let’s be real, it’s hilarious. but now that I´m looking into it, I must confess that I have no idea where the lightning tidbit is coming from. Is it some warped noun derived from lýsa,to light? From ljósta, to strike?nothing in these paradigms hints at any change in the root from ý or jó to ei. I´d love to find a way to get leistr out of ljósta but… ?? I truly have nothing to say on that matter. Perhaps @thorraborinn, who is excellent with deconstructing names, has an obvious answer as to where the lightning comes from, because I do not.
Something interesting to note: Býleistr, as referenced in Völuspá, may not even be Býleistr. Here is how the name appears in verse 49, in the Codex Regius:
That second to last letter there? It’s wonky. In the normalized Icelandic version that I have, Gisli Sigurðsson denotes this funny letter as an f, making the name Býleifr instead of Býlesitr. While “Bee-leaf” is a fun name, and most figures within the Norse mythological corpus have multiple names to their credit, I am not convinced that that thing there is an f. Take a look at this line:
Look at all those happy lil´ dotty Anglo Saxon f´s! The questionable letter above looks nothing like these.
To my mind this derpy little guyis either a p, which would kind of ruin everything, or an elaborate s. Notice how in the above “Yggdrasils” the scribe uses two separate varieties of s? One within the word and one to cap it off? I think that final s is more along the lines of the letter in our Býleistr above, making it Býleisz. @galdramani knows more about manuscript forms than I do, so maybe he has an idea about that letter. But I digress: none of that has to do with the inherent confusing-ness of the name itself.
I´d go with “Bee-stocking” or other variations thereupon, personally, but clearly there´s much more to this name than meets the eye. Sorry if this was more confusing than helpful!